And so it came to pass that judgment was handed down yesterday in the case of Sharon Shoesmith v. OFSTED and Others. Shoesmith has achieved a strange victory and in doing so has only managed to highlight the fuzzy and muddled standards that operate in the world of care and local authorities.
I’ve just listened to an interview with Shoesmith on today’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme where she had the brass neck to say that she’s not into the ‘blame game’ using the words “I don’t do blame”. She also said that ‘you can’t stop the death of children’.
So she’s presumably not into the ‘personal responsibility’ game either, and she presumably doesn’t ‘do personal responsibility’. Yes, she did mention the word responsibility, but almost in passing as if it meant nothing at all, which it may well mean to Shoesmith – nothing at all.
Well, I’ve got news for you Sharon Shoesmith: that is what management is all about, and you should stop playing with words and accept that you failed miserably as a senior manager. Senior management must be prepared to take responsibility and be held accountable for the procedures that they allow to operate in their own ’empire’ and when those procedures are found to be sadly, tragically lacking, the buck stops with you. After all, that is the reason you were employed in the first place in this role in Haringey, because of the miserable failings of the department in the case of Victoria Climbie a few years earlier. You were placed in a newly created post of Director of Children’s Services to ensure that procedures were ‘watertight’ – but you failed. You can’t have it both ways – or can you?
In December 2008 Shoesmith was sacked from her position as Director of Children’s Services in Haringey, following the damning OFSTED report into the procedures in place in her department at the time of the tragic death of Baby Peter Connelly in 2007, at the tender age of 17 months. Those found guilty of involvement in the death of Baby Peter are in prison, serving sentences for their crime of causing or allowing his death, and if my memory serves me well, Baby Peter’s mother pleaded guilty of the charges brought against her. A dysfunctional family in need of support and care – and that was supposedly being provided by Haringey, under the control of Shoesmith.
Doctors involved in the case were referred to the GMC for investigation and were suspended and/or had their positions terminated. Social workers were dismissed. I can’t remember how many, nor whether they appealed and were cleansed, so I’m not naming anyone here. It’s all available for anyone who needs to know. Doctors, nurses and social workers have a professional code of conduct with standards that they are required to work to. That code of conduct calls upon them to accept personal responsibility for their actions, for their demeanour, for their lack of actions too. They can be held accountable.
But Sharon Shoesmith – alongside others in similar positions of seniority and ‘decision making’ in Adult Social Services, as well as Children’s Social Services – is not required to accept personal responsibility for her actions because there is no professional body that is likely to investigate, examine and pronounce on her failings. She remained in her job, despite calls for her resignation from many. She said she wanted to remain in post in order to support her staff.
Ed Balls made a statement on 1 December 2008, in his then capacity as Secretary of State. That statement published in full here gave a fairly balanced reasoning for his decision to direct Haringey Council to appoint John Coughlan as Director of Children’s Services, and to remove Sharon Shoesmith then Director of Children’s Services from her post with immediate effect. Since then, she has been unable to find work, but today says that she wants to continue with her career with children in some capacity of other.
Her first interview after being removed from post, was with The Guardian on 6 February 2009.
It would have been acceptable for Shoesmith to have been allowed a chance to give her opinions, before being removed from post. I don’t argue with that. But I don’t think she was unfairly dismissed.
Procedures may not have been followed in detail by Ed Balls – but she is surely used to procedures being ignored. Or did she never read the OFSTED report? But the ‘outcome’ should and hopefully would have been the same: she should and would have been sacked. This is where the double standards of the world of care and local authorities come into the story, and where there is sweet nothing that the average person can do about those double standards.
I don’t know Shoesmith but I do know Haringey. I have never had anything to do with any local authority Children’s Social Services but I have had dealings with a neighbouring London borough’s Adult Social Services. My own relative died as a result of neglect in a care home. The care home provider allowed the Manager, the Deputy Manager and some of the staff to ‘resign’ from their positions – rather than having to face disciplinary procedures. The local authority allowed that to happen, as did the CQC. The Director of the mental health care of older people team managed to arrange for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the admission to hospital and death of my relative. But he carefully avoided any investigation into the involvement of his own team, his own social workers who had been seconded from the local authority. He also carefully avoided any investigation into his own involvement in the care of my relative – which would have been most revealing. Not to mention investigation into the bundles of ‘legal advice’ that he had to seek, just in order for him to reply to my ‘letters of concern’. While my relative was in his care, before arrival of my relative in the care home, during the hospitalisation of my relative, and then after the death of my relative. And then months and months and months after the demise and destruction of my relative in care.
The local authority carefully avoided any investigation into the failings of their own departments – from Adult Social Services, through to care home provisioning and regulating. The CQC carefully avoided any investigation into the failings of their own care home inspectors.
And yet the care home was prevented from admitting new residents for a full year while it was dragged up from the bottom of the barrel to provide the kind of care it should have been providing from the beginning. Systems were introduced that should all have been present – and seen to be present – when the care home provider, the local authority, adult social services, adult housing, the CQC/CSCI allowed it to open and receive residents who were already known to be ‘at risk’ because of the very reasons they were all in need of residential and/or nursing care. Staff recruitment, staff training, staff monitoring, staff supervision were all introduced, as were the very basics of care.
Which begs the question: who was responsible for allowing such a pathetic care home to operate? The Director of Adult Social Services – the equivalent of Sharon Shoesmith; the Commissioning Department within the local authority; the MD and Directors of the private care provider providing the service to the local authority and residents of that local authority; the CQC/CSCI regulatory body which carried out an inspection weeks before my relative arrived there, but then carefully and conveniently took a back seat from then on.
My MP and the MP for the borough where my relative lived didn’t give too much of a thought to the whole tragic system of care for the elderly in place either.
My relative was not a baby aged 17 months.
My relative was aged 83.
Now there’s the difference.
The buck has to stop with you Sharon Shoesmith. I hope you will find a way to forget all about the bucks you will now receive as a result of what you describe as Ed Balls having been “staggeringly irresponsible” and his actions having left children’s social care in “complete disarray”. Nonsense!
Sharon Shoesmith has to be made accountable and seen to be accountable, so I hope she will find a way to remove her smugness, her arrogance, and her continuing ability to try to blame others – even though she claims not to ‘do blame’. That’s what responsibility is all about.
From yesterday’s judgment in relation to the OFSTED review and report:
“The Review will need to undertake an urgent and thorough inspection of the quality of practice and management of all services which contribute to the effective safeguarding of children in the local area. It will be important to ensure rigorous scrutiny of the quality of practice and decision-making by front-line workers and their managers and of the effectiveness of management practice and performance management systems in all relevant agencies …” .
I invite everyone to substitute safeguarding of adults in place of safeguarding of children in the above.
A further quote from yesterday’s judgment:
“The inspection has identified a number of serious concerns in relation to safeguarding of children and young people in Haringey. The contribution of local services to improving outcomes … is inadequate and needs urgent and sustained attention.”
Again, substitute adults and ‘a neighbouring borough‘ in the above and you will see where I am heading. Why else would the local authority in my own case, and following on from their conveniently ‘targeted’ investigation, have felt the need to scrutinise closely the systems in place in its other care homes for adults at risk?
The ‘ten main findings’ in the OFSTED report – unchallenged by the latest judgment – could also be written in similar vein to encompass the failings of ‘a neighbouring borough’ and its systems in the case of my own relative.
“has got no grip and relied on No. 2 who couldn’t hack it” – same here, except that the reliance was on Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 …. plus a few more, both within and without the local authority’s Adult Social Services department.
Procedural fairness? Now, don’t get me started on that because the local authority’s understanding of ‘fairness’ differs vastly from my own. As for procedures, the local authority has a powerful knack (not even witnessed in the knackers’ yards of old) that nudges procedural fairness into a silk purse to be cherished and opened only by the local authority.
I then noticed a reference to being party to “an orchestrated litany of lies”’ – my feathers are now being seriously ruffled, because the parties to the ‘orchestrated litany of lies’ (and what I have always referred to as being economical with the truth, polite person that I be!) or rather facts that were withheld from the investigating team, a whole load of relevant and damning information which – had they been decent enough to reveal to the investigators – would have shown them in a very bad light. In fact they’d have been in the darkness of a dungeon by now.
A fundamental breach of trust and confidence? Without a shadow of a doubt.
Common law requirements of fairness? As above.